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The Frank & Sylvia Pasquerilla Heritage Discovery Center, part of the Johnstown Discovery Network, is a community center that contains several attractions: the "America: Through Immigrant Eyes" exhibit; the Johnstown Children's Museum; the Iron & Steel Gallery; and two additional galleries. It also houses the Galliker's Cafe and the 4th Floor Ethnic Social Club. The HDC is operated by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA). Welcome!

Cinema Judaica: The War Years, 1939-1949
A traveling exhibit, "Cinema Judaica: The War Years, 1939-1949," will be presented at the Heritage Discovery Center from February 1- March 31. It joins the current temporary exhibit, "Remembrance: 125 Years of Jewish Life in Johnstown," and is part of the year-long Johnstown Jewish Community Heritage Project, a collaboration between JAHA and Beth Sholom. 

 

"Cinema Judaica" consists of film posters, memorabilia and other objects that show how the motion picture industry was shaped by and created changes in public opinion during the difficult years of 1939-1949. It illustrates how the industry encouraged America's isolationism, advocated going to war against the Nazis, influenced post-war perceptions of the Jewish people and the founding of the State of Israel, and shaped the face of contemporary Jewish life.

The exhibit was developed by the Hebrew Union College and Jewish Institute of Religion Museum of New York from the collection of Ken Sutak.  

 

The exhibit, which will be displayed on the Heritage Discovery Center's fifth floor, is divided into four sections, as follows:

The Great Debate, 1939-1941

his section of the exhibit puts the first anti-Nazi films into the context of the nationwide debate about whether America should enter the war against the Nazis in Europe. The question was discussed in the media, in open forums sponsored by political organizations, and in Congress, and many wanted to avoid another European war. In fact, 60 percent of Americans felt that participating in World War I had been a mistake.

In the late 1930s, most Hollywood studios (except, notably, Warner Brothers) complied with the Nazis' restrictions on American films that were shown in Germany and Europe. Jewish characters disappeared from films, and references to the Nazis or the political situation in Europe were avoided. Even studios like Warner Brothers that were willing to give up German and European distribution disguised anti-Nazi plotlines and Jewish roles through allegory, character name changes, and other techniques.

But by July 1938, Germany became increasingly aggressive, and the first openly anti-Nazi script, "Confessions of a Nazi Spy," was produced.

Other featured films include "Sons of Liberty," "Pastor Hall," and "The Great Dictator," among others.

After Pearl Harbor, 1942-1945

The United States entered the war after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. During this period, patriotic movies grew in popularity.

From this period, the exhibit includes posters for World War II espionage and concentration camp escape melodramas, such as "To Be or Not To Be," plus films about Nazi Germany's accountability such as "Address Unknown," "Tomorrow the World," and "Hotel Berlin."
 

 

The Post-War Anti-Semitism Films of the 1940s

This section of the exhibit shows how the movie industry confronted the problem of anti-Semitism in the United States. Anti-Semitic organizations like the Christian Front and the Christian Mobilizers blamed the Jews for the war, and attacked Jewish citizens, stores, and synagogues in major northeast cities.

In many examples, including "The House I Live In," "Crossfire," and "Open Secret," an Italian-American or Irish-American authority figure condemns anti-Semitism, stops an assault, or solves a racist murder. "Gentleman's Agreement" addresses the related subject of white Protestant anti-Semitism.
Post-War "Exodus" Films of the 1940s

The fourth part of the exhibition includes Hollywood films that focus on post-war Jewish life. Themes include rebuilding Jewish life and culture in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and the founding of the state of Israel.

These films include "My Father's House," "The Illegals," "The Search," and "Sword in the Desert."
 

 

Additional programming

Thursday, March 7, 7:00 pm at the Johnstown Flood Museum -- Screening of "The Great Dictator"
-- Charlie Chaplin was the writer, producer and star of this 1940 release, which is one of the films featured in "Cinema Judaica." The film was Chaplin's first talking feature, and became his most commercially successful. Produced and released when the United States was still at peace with Germany, the film was one of the first major releases that presented a condemnation of Adolf Hitler. Paulette Goddard and Jack Oakie also star.

Dr. David Ward of Pitt-Johnstown will give a brief introduction to the 124-minute film, and lead a discussion afterward.